If you have been following my own writing or my career you will know that I am a powerlifting coach. You might think that sets me to a default of “no such thing as too heavy!” But you would be wrong. I often find myself telling clients off for going too heavy on certain lifts, or too often.
So yes, I fully intend to direct clients to this when I give them a little slap on the wrist in future.
Heavy is the ends, not the means
The goal of most training programmes will be to get stronger, that doesn’t mean you need to be getting bigger and heavier weights on the barbell every single workout.
The goal is to add more weight to the barbell by the end of the programme, whether that culminate in a competition or simply a new training cycle.
With this in mind, the programme is then written with the volume and intensity manipulated in such a way that the client, or athlete, is not going to burn themselves out too early.
This means that the specified difficulty (weight of the lift) needs to be adhered to, or else it could throw the rest of the plan off.
This means that consistently going too hard and too heavy could potentially throw a 12 week training plan down the drain.
An increase in a suggested weight is an increase in both volume and intensity.
As I said before, a good plan will have the volume, intensity and frequency laid out in such a way that training functions such as compensation and recovery can be employed to effectively promote the most strength and highest functioning attributes out of the athlete.
Volume is seen as one of the most important facets in a training plan for size and strength. The formula for volume is – weight x reps x sets.
You might be looking at this and thinking – “well, if I do a heavier weight than I’m doing more volume…” You’re right, you absolutely are.
But you also need to ask yourself – “will going heavier on this one set/exercise negatively effect my energy reserves for the rest of the session/week of training?”
If you answer positively to that question then you are better off focusing upon achieving the volume in the whole workout than just that one YOLO set.
Whether you’re following a plan or not, going too heavy can seriously effect your recovery. You could go so heavy as to injure yourself, which will not only effect your training but also your everyday life.
To further explain what I said in the previous section, on wasting energy for the rest of the workout. Lets look at an example.
Jane Bloggs is wanting to compete in powerlifting. She has a 6 week plan.
Each session that involves the big 3 (squat, bench, deadlift) has a heavy single followed by sets and reps for volume. She is told to have the heavy single akin to an opener at competition. Meaning it should be good for one or two more solid reps.
Jane’s one rep max is 90kg, she is told to do the single at around 70kg. She does it, and thinks “hell yeah, 92.5kg is probably there.” So she goes for it.
She struggles for a 6 second grinder and finally fails, having to dump the bar on the safety pins. She’s now exhausted and can not continue with her volume work.
She then finds herself going to train the week after, but isn’t sure what to do, does she progress her workout as was meant to on the plan? Does she repeat last week’s one?
She could just do what is on the plan. Squat 70kg for one, who knows, maybe even up it to 72.5-75kg a week later if all goes well? (This builds up over a 6 week period, and if her opener at the end of 6 weeks is now 85kg then her one rep max of 90kg is getting destroyed).
Lighter Weights for More Reps
Going lighter, and hitting a higher range of reps can help you reach different goals. Especially if you are concerned about heavier weights causing injury or just not wanting to step in.
Generally lighter weights can promote fat burning, which is handy for those looking to lose weight and tone up. Utilizing lighter weights with a higher range of reps means you’ll sweat more. Combine this with clean eating and simple life hacks like Green Tea as a fat burner and you’ll be laughing.
How Heavy Then is HEAVY then?
I am a big fan of having my guys follow a submaximal approach.
This way, they can practice their pesky, nerve inspiring openers week in and week out before attempting it on a platform and they can also thoroughly warm up their muscles and tendons with a nice, challenging weight before doing the rest of their volume work.
There is a famous Ed Coan quote about saving your personal bests for the platform. I like this as training is to build, not to show off. You literally have a platform for showing off.
You might be thinking “what about if I don’t want to compete?” Then what I’d say is, if your training allows you to go for an all out one rep max, then do so safely.
Use spotters, correct equipment and safety bars. Once you know where your limits are, I’d then suggest training submaximally for a while. This way, you might find that you eventually exceed your PBs but at a point where its still submaximal.
Another thing to keep in mind, is that an exercise is a skill.
The repetitions you do on a squat is all practice. If the weight you choose to do is so heavy that it causes you to lose your shape then you are practicing bad habits which will be how you learn the movement.
In terms of the exact weight, it depends entirely upon your training plan. Some will go for different levels of intensities, volumes and frequencies and these all play a massive role in how many plates go on the old barbell.
Going Heavy Is Great.
It is, it makes you feel accomplished and a bit like King Kong.
You can almost guarantee that if you are going heavier that you will see and feel a huge difference in your body too, so its a signal of the results of all of your hard work.
However, it just needs to be done smartly and at the right times.